Monthly Archives: September 2009

Meadowbrook Needs You! — Win Dice!

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contest-winnerBack in June, I created a town called “Meadowbrook”. This month, I’m sponsoring a contest based on that town. All you have to do is create a NPC — an inhabitant of Meadowbrook — using the information given in this blog. The characters I like best will become part of the “official” Meadowbrook setting. In exchange, every entry you make gives you a chance to win a set of green Crystal Caste Dice from RPG Shop.  The winner will be chosen at random from among all the entries, so even if I don’t use your character, you still have a chance to win.

How to Enter

Leave a comment below detailing your NPC. Meadowbrook is a system-generic setting, that is, it’s designed to be used with any fantasy game system. Your character description should be equally system-generic, though you can include stats for your favorite game system(s) at the bottom of the description, if you wish.

The contest will run until 31 October 2009. A winner will be chosen at random on 01 November and will be announced on this blog on 02 November, 2009. You can enter as many times as you wish, each time with a different NPC.

NPC Creation Rules

  • You may use any of the existing NPCs as part of your character’s background, but you may not alter them.
  • You may use or add to any or all of the existing locations and other information, but must use the existing material as written. You may not change any of the information provided.
  • Character portraits are welcome, but not required. To use a portrait, upload the picture to your own site, then link to it in your entry.
  • I reserve the right to “tweak” NPCs to better fit the setting before placing them in the Meadowbrook information.
  • By entering your NPC, you retain the copyright on your material, but you agree to allow me use of the character. Full credit will be given to you whenever the character is included in Meadowbrook material.

Meadowbrook Posts

Here’s a list of all the Meadowbrook posts:

That’s all of the official stuff. Please feel free to post any questions you may have in the comments below, or you can email me at jade(at)rpggm(dot)com. I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

Beg, Borrow, and Steal

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Evil Machinations is branching out. Starting 6 October 2009, I’ll be publishing a free weekly newsletter called “Beg, Borrow, and Steal”. Not a repeat of my blog posts, BB&S will contain:

  • Small locations you can drop into any game — a tavern, an inn, a spaceport, etc.
  • NPCs — people you can add to your game
  • How to’s for everything from making props to setting a mood
  • Anything else I feel like throwing in 😉

The idea is to provide GMs with small bits of information they can use immediately. My ideal would be to provide you with something to cause you to say “Hey, that’s really cool — I think I’ll use it tonight.” The information will be as non-system specific as possible. You can sign up for BB&S in the box at the top of the left column of this blog.

I’m also open to ideas from other GMs. If you’ve got a great tip or idea you’d like to share, send it on over. If I like it, I’ll use it and give you full credit (which, right now is the only thing I can pay you with, since the newsletter’s free 😉 ). Just email your ideas to jade(at)rpggm(dot)com.

Look for the first issue on Tuesday, 6 October 2009.

Building Better NPCs III: Character Webs

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What is a character web?

A character web is a map — a specific kind of map that charts the relationships of NPCs to one another. It’s a great tool for figuring out how one NPC may respond to another — or to anything related to that NPC. This is a tool to use with your major character NPCs; it’s not something you need to work out for every town beggar.

How do I create a character web?

  1. Break your NPCs into groups of who knows whom. Most likely, not all of your NPCs are going to care — or even know — about each other.
  2. Pick one group of NPCs to work with right now.
  3. Choose the leader of the group. If the group doesn’t have a leader, pick a key person.
  4. Write their names (and small portraits, if you have them) in a circle, with your leader on top, like so:character web: names
  5. Decide who knows about whom in the web. It’s possible for a character not to know about one or more of the other characters in their group. For example, we can say that Martin and everyone else in this group have conspired to keep Kristiana in the dark about Sashia’s existence. But Sashia knows about Kristiana, due to a kingdom-wide announcement by Martin’s father, the king.
  6. Draw arrows from each character to every other character the web he knows about:character web: arrows7. Along the arrows, write what each character feels about the others she knows: character-web-3

From this, we can tell the Prince’s chances at marital bliss are little to none. His soon-to-be wife loathes him, while being love with his best friend. His mistress is protective of him and consideres his betrothed to be a very lucky woman. Meanwhile, the bodyguard is in love with the mistress! Note that these are the predominant feelings of each character. Sashia isn’t going to feel protective of Martin all the time — there are times she’ll be annoyed, hurt, affectionate. But the map gives you the character’s overall attitudes towards the others around him.

Ways to use the web

In addition to helping determine how each character would relate to the others face-to-face, these webs can be used to figure out the reception the PCs might get from each one, based on how that character views the PCs in relation to others in the web.

For example: Say the Prince asked the PCs to carry a message to Kristiana. If Kristiana knows they’re coming from the Prince, she’s likely to be polite, but cold to them. After all, the last thing she wants is a message from her betrothed. However, if the PCs arrange things so that Kristiana thinks they’re coming from Morik, they’re likely to get a warm welcome and perhaps a small token of appreciation.

Another example: The PCs have been asked by the Prince’s father to substitute for Martin’s regular bodyguard for an important event. Tyleck, who feels the Prince is a foolish young man, may go along to the event on his own — just in case the Prince tries to do something stupid that the PCs won’t be expecting. He may interfere with the PC’s duties — with the best interests at heart.

A character web can provide an “at a glance” shorthand to figuring out how a given NPC may react under various situations. This can help make these characters more complex and interesting, as they don’t have the same reactions to everyone else all the time.

How about you? Do you have any tools you use to bring your NPCs to life? Please share them with us in the comments.

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Handling Problem Players

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frustrated GMWe all get them: the incessant rules lawyer who challenges your every call; the “loopholer” who will exploit everything not nailed down in the rules to gain that extra +1 advantage; the player who takes everything that happens to their character as an attack on themselves…

Dealing with problem players is never easy. Here’s a collection of resources to help you when you’ve got no idea where to turn:

How Do You Describe Combat?

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Every GM has a weak spot — mine is running combats. I can manage all of the die rolling and number crunching and “who’s turn is it”, but I am woefully inadequate when it comes to describing combat so that it moves beyond “he hits you with a sword and does 8 points of damage.” I’m also “tactically-challenged” and have a hard time figuring out what the NPCs should do on their turns.

I decided to check for ideas on the web. Unfortunately, two hours of intensive searching uncovered only two articles that fit my needs:

So I’m turning to y’all for advice. How do you figure out tactics for your NPCs in combat and how do you keep combats interesting beyond “You hit and do 14 points of damage?”

Missing You: When the GM Can’t Be There

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Players aren’t the only ones who miss the occasional game session. Every once in a while the GM gets called into work at the last moment, or his wife (or the GM herself!) goes into labor early… there are numerous reasons why a GM might have to miss a particular session.

cat-missing-youSo with a missing GM, you’re going to have to cancel the game for tonight, right?

Not necessarily. Here’s a list of ideas for your group to try the next time your GM gets hit over the head with Real Life™:

  • Run a “pick up” game. Designate someone else as GM for the night and choose another game system for a one-shot. You’ll want something with very quick character creation so you can actually get in some play time. Tales from the Floating Vagabond is a good game system for this.
  • Have an alternate campaign. The GM for a D&D game I’m currently playing in has had more than his share of Real Life™ recently. Consequently, one of the other players has started up a dungeon crawl game we play when our regular game can’t meet. In some games, you can actually set up a situation where PCs can come and go, depending on who’s available to play any particular time. Everway can be good for this, as can any town or city adventure.
  • Play a board game. Or computer game. Or whatever.
  • Have a brain-storming session. Get as many of the PCs as available and sit down to discuss your current in-game situation and make plans for the future. My players tend to do this spontaneously… when we’re out to dinner, before/after a movie, at non-gaming parties…. They’ll do it even if I’m standing right there!.
  • Have a movie night.
  • Run a “It coulda happened…” session. My players did this once when I was called into work unexpectedly. They chose someone to be the GM and, based on what they knew of the game already, ran a session of  my game without me. Everybody knew that the events of this session wouldn’t “count” — i.e. nothing that happened during this game session really occurred in game. The players loved it and I was insanely jealous that I didn’t get to play that session. :(
  • Have a back-up GM. I took this page out of Ars Magica and its “troupe-style” play. That is, the every player is both GM and PC, with the GMing duties rotating around the group. Each person is responsible for their own section of the world or game. For example, each person is in charge of a different country and takes over as GM when the group enters “their” country. This option is one you really can’t do “spur of the moment” — the game has to be set up this way from the beginning. If the regularly scheduled GM can’t make it, another GM takes over for that session.
  • Run a “day in the life of” session. Pick some very minor characters from the game, such as Bernie the Shopkeeper and his wife Ethyl, their two kids, a couple of their cousins, etc. Or the members of a local sports team, a group of masons, the employees of a business… you get the picture. Run a session that showcases their daily lives.

What does your group do when the GM can’t show? What new roleplaying twists have you experimented with and how did they turn out?

Related Posts:

From the Basement: Everyway

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I’m starting a new feature here in this blog. In “From the Basement” posts, I’m going to dig up an older game and review it. Today’s game is Everway.

Everway game box imageI have to admit, when it came out, I paid little attention to Everway. Everything I read and heard about it seemed to indicate it was a game slanted at new gamers and with 15 years of game experience under my belt at the time, why would I need a beginner’s game? Plus, with it’s box and cards it seemed … well … kitschy.  But when our local game store marked their copies down to $3 apiece, I bought a set … just for the collection, of course.

I don’t remember what prompted our group to try the game, but somehow I ended up volunteering to run a short-term campaign. That was when I fell in love with the game.  Everway is great system for groups who want story and character-focused games without a lot of pesky mechanics to get in the way.

Character Creation

Character creation begins with what the game calls “The Vision Stage” — where you come up with a character idea. Before you ever start filling in numbers, you decide who your character is. The game comes with several “vision cards” — fantasy art cards. You chose five of these that appeal to you and write your character around them. Then comes the “questions stage” where you present your five cards and basic character concept to the other players, who then ask you questions about him and the cards you’ve chosen to represent him.

Once you’ve got a basic concept of your character, you move on to the “identity stage”. At this point, you choose a name for your character and decide on a motive — the character’s reason for adventuring. After that, you chose three cards from the Fortune Deck — a deck of cards with a similar feel to tarot or other divination decks — describing your character’s virtue (a special talent, gift, or beneficial trait), fault (a weakness of flaw), and fate (an inner conflict your character has that will shape his destiny).

Only now in the creation process do you start figure numbers for your character.  Each character has four stats corresponding the four classical elements: earth, air, fire, water. Earth covers health, strength, endurance — a character’s physical traits. Air covers intelligence, wisdom, communication — a character’s mental abilities. Fire covers action, combat skills, speed. Water covers feeling, intuition, empathy. Stats are done with a simple point-buy system and each character gets one free special ability and you can spend more points to gain further powers, like the ability to use magic. The numbers stage of character creation tends to go very quickly, since players have already developed their character concept before even reaching this stage of creation.

I found this method of character creation very enjoyable. Frequently I tend to play the same type of character over and over no matter the game system or genre. But this method caused me to come up with a character I loved that was very different from my norm.


To say Everway is rules-light would be an understatement. The basic game mechanics are simple — you tell the GM what you want to do and the GM tells you what happens as a result. It’s a completely diceless system, in the tradition of Amber Diceless. If a GM is uncertain what the outcome of a character’s action should be, she can draw a card from the Fortune Deck and use it’s image or meaning (the game comes with a booklet describing the meaning of each of the Fortune Cards) to inspire her. The character’s stats are used as a rough guide to ability — if a character has a high Fire score, they’re much more likely to win a combat against a character with a low one, for example.

Overall Impressions

I enjoy this game very much. I found the visual input from both the vision cards and and the Fortune Deck helped me immensely when describing both setting and PC actions and outcomes. But it is very GM-dependent and requires a GM who’s comfortable running “off-the-cuff”. The players, too, need be flexible and willing to place the coutcome of their actions solely in the hands of the GM.

If you prefer a more structured gaming style, Everway is definitely not for you. Gamers who like “crunchy” systems will likely find this game a exercise in frustration and the lack of randomized outcome generation does eliminate luck as a factor. Generally, you’re not going to have the incredible successes and wild botches tha gaming stories are made of.

I’ve run Everway games for beginning as well as experienced players and it does make a good introduction to roleplaying game concepts. I wouldn’t recommend it for beginning GMs, however. Still, if you’re looking for a change in fantasy game, Everway could be just what you’re looking for.

More Game Quotes

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Here are more quotes from actual game sessions:

General and Out of Character

“This is better than being several hundred people at once.”

“Do you have something to offer up to me as a ‘Get Self Stuck in Appliance’ skill?”

“Give me a resisted Style roll.”

“It’s been changed from commercial to ‘plot device’ zoning.”

“I think that grabbing someone from horseback is an outmoded courtship technique.”

Amber Diceless Roleplaying

“We could have completely botched the job.”
“That would not be completely suprising…”
–Alysis, daughter of Julian
–Allira, daughter of Florimel

“[Brand] wanted the throne, but being a deranged psychopath, his brothers had some issues with that.”
–Alysis, daughter of Julian

“Is there any reason why we shouldn’t bring Master Hardwin along?”
“Yes. [pause] Oh! You mean a good reason.”
–Aurelius Antoniusson, descendant of Corwin
–Lord Sirian of the Ways of Mirrus

Ars Magica

“Why are we taking the boat?”
“Because you are too slow and do not have enough feet.”
–Anya, follower of Jerbiton
–Ruyrick, follower of Bjornaer

“Is not my fault if other people do not have survival skills.”
“That is why we have civilization.”
–Ruyrick, follower of Bjornaer
–Anya, follower of Jerbiton

Call of Cthulhu

If this isn’t the CoC in a nutshell, I don’t know what is
“You are messing with forces you don’t want to understand!”
–John Stubble

Keeper: How would you like to go horribly insane and then have your head torn off by many-tentacled beings from beyond?
Potential Player: Well okay, if everyone else is…

Castle Falkenstein

“I’d hate to be shot by someone I haven’t been properly introduced to.”
–Mr. Espee

“You know, we could have framed anyone with this information.”
–Mr. Espee

“How do you spell ‘nn-tha-a-guuunnn?”
–Miss Margaret Evans

Dungeons & Dragons

And it did, too...
: The room is filled with the usual magical accoutraments: beakers, spell components, parts of spell components in jars, a coal-filled brassiere…
Several players: You mean brazier!?!!!
DM[pointing]: No, it says right here in the module: ‘brassiere’.